In a few moments students will fill MacGorman Chapel for the convocation of the fall semester. They represent many states, nations, churches and families. This is the sobering reality that makes me want to craft each word in class as an act of stewardship. These are students who have chosen not to colonize in their home church, but pioneer to a different place as an expression of God’s next step. Their obedience is an earnest reminder that that there is a time to colonize, and a time to pioneer.
Our liberal friends are not too keen on the idea of student achievement in schools. Last week I heard of another high school that no longer will conduct awards assemblies at the end of the year. Progressives want to pull achieving young people back into the mushy middle.
But are we doing something similar at church? In most churches, don’t we only offer foundational discipleship that leads to a mostly bland faith for the entire group?
- When an open Bible study group (Sunday School, etc.), or student worship, or a special event creates new spiritual hunger in a teenage believer, what comes next?
- When that student makes a conscious decision to become a disciple of Jesus, who begins to walk that teenager into a life of true discipleship?
- When that teenager is surrounded by peers at church who are not interested in things like deep prayer, the spiritual disciplines, worldview, and apologetics—where does that teenager find other students who share his or her heart for those things?
- What component of weekly student ministry parallels the investment of Jesus in Peter, James, and John?
- When a parent is ready to disciple his or her teenager, how can that parent use those same minutes to disciple a motivated teenager from a pagan home?
- How do we dramatically increase the number of high school graduates who adore Christ, live out of gratitude for the Gospel, take responsibility for their own spiritual growth, articulate what they believe and why, know how to disciple others, sacrifice for the poor, and live to take the Good News to the nations and the hard places in the U.S.—and later begin to impact churches, business, entertainment, and government?
Most churches provide an open-group Bible study for teenagers. Some provide two or more. The expression open group simply means any teenager can attend a group with no commitment and no expectations. The most common open groups meet on Sunday mornings, and they have names similar to Sunday School, Bible Study Fellowship, etc. A second open group each week may meet on Sunday evening, Wednesday evening, or some other time. When led well, open groups are strategic and vital to the church.
The complement to an open group is a covenant group. The expression covenant group refers to discipling groups that require more commitment and deeper relationships.
- Rather than open and fluid participation in open groups, teenagers join a covenant group only by making a covenant with that leader and with the others being discipled for a specific period of time.
- Rather than the foundational discipleship of open groups, covenant groups are built around deeper concepts and spiritual disciplines.
- Rather than most study being done during the meeting times of open groups, teenagers in covenant groups are accountable for preparation and spiritual disciplines outside of meeting times.
Discipleship authority Bill Hull notes, “When churches offer only open groups, with people at various spiritual levels gathering in the same groups, mediocrity will result. It’s like throwing everyone in the shallow end of the swimming pool; everyone thinks that staying there is normal.”
Covenant group leaders disciple through formal meeting times but also by sharing life with each teenager. They are following the example of Paul who reported, “We cared so much for you that we were pleased to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us” (1 Thess. 2:8, HCSB).
A covenant group leader who goes into the world of a teenager shows that teenager he or she is valuable as a person, not just a church statistic. But going to a sporting event or band concert takes time. Deep conversations with lots of listening take time. Walking together, life on life, takes time. Adults who have their own jobs and their own families cannot make that kind of investment in more than three or four.
Pastor and discipling expert Robby Gallaty reports: “So what is the ideal size of a (discipleship group)? In my experience, four total, as displayed by Jesus, is the number of choice.”
Even leaders who can visualize the value of covenant groups might be tempted to say: “With our current programs we do not have enough adults engaged with our teenagers. How on earth will we find enough to lead covenant groups with only three teenagers in each?” That is a reasonable question.
Numerically, there are enough adults in most churches to lead covenant groups. But moving adults into new leadership roles will require fresh preaching, teaching, and discipling. Arm twisting, creating guilt, and shouting “ought to” has not worked and cannot work.
We all know that teenagers are saturated with Moral Therapeutic Deism … but so are church adults. Before their hearts will embrace kingdom service, they must move from “God exists for me” to “I exist for God.” Preaching and teaching must include:
- Leading believers into a Christ awakening. David Bryant says, “A Christ Awakening takes place whenever God’s Spirit uses God’s Word to reintroduce God’s people back to God’s Son for ALL He is. … Whenever Christians wake up to fresh hope, passion, prayer, and mission focused on the full extent of the supremacy of Christ, they are seen to rise up to serve the King of glory in whole new ways.”
- Leading believers to experience overwhelming gratitude for the Gospel. Tullian Tchividjian says, “We can give people the impression that Christianity is first and foremost about the sacrifice we make for Jesus rather than the sacrifice Jesus made for us; our performance for him rather than his performance for us; our obedience for him rather than his obedience for us. The hub of Christianity is not ‘do something for Jesus.’ The hub of Christianity is ‘Jesus has done everything for you.’”
One of the most valuable roles of the senior pastor is calling out believers to serve. Pastors can proclaim from the pulpit that every Christ follower is to have a ministry. He can challenge every adult small group to equip and send out members who will teach and disciple (not sit and soak).
Spiritually alive adults who invest in covenant groups likely will lead to a new kind of teenager in the church. Because Christ is living His life through those teenagers, what they do brings Christ’s kingdom more on the earth—which can only serve to bring great glory to God. In so doing, the teenagers fulfill the reason for their existence on earth.
Most of us can readily identify with the man who came to Jesus one day with a tragic, seemingly impossible situation. The man’s son was afflicted with demonic possession. The father’s description of the symptoms is heart-breaking: “A spirit …has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid,” (Mark 9:17-18). Previously, the father brought his son to Jesus’ disciples, but they were powerless to help. Now the dad stands before Jesus with the frantic plea: “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us” (v. 22). Read More »
The Power of a Simple Invite
A study produced by LifeWay Research last year found that 80% of those who attend church one or more times a month believe they have a “personal responsibility to share their faith.” On the surface it seems that our churches are doing a good job of communicating the need for evangelism. If you continue looking at the research however, it goes on to show that while people agree there is a need to share the Gospel, rarely do they actually do it! (Churchgoers Believe in Sharing Faith, Most Never Do by John D. Wilke)
On June 11, Southwestern Seminary hosted a panel discussion at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention to discuss how churches can create a culture of everyday evangelism and reach their communities with the gospel. Pastors and SBC leaders from across the country shared their experiences with leading their churches and training their congregations in personal evangelism. Below is the video introduction for the panel discussion, which features the late evangelism professor Roy Fish recounting his “Three Driving Forces for Evangelism,” and the full version of the panel discussion. Read More »
The bad news is that some young adults leave the church after high school. The good news is that not as many are leaving as we once thought. And, we increasingly know what makes the difference. Read More »
Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. Gandhi and Mother Teresa. Missionary pioneers Adoniram Judson, William Carey and Lottie Moon. Corrie Ten Boom and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Adrian Rogers and James Kennedy. Read More »
The essential distinction between preaching and teaching in the New Testament is the difference between scuba diving, on the one hand, and snorkeling, on the other. In snorkeling, one observes the pristine beauty of the marine world with its variety of ichthyological life, but with scuba one discovers intricacies unobservable from the surface. Snorkeling has its dangers (boats, jet skis, diving swimmers, and so on), while the lurking dangers of the deep are more subtle (lion fish, sea snakes, and a condition called “narcosis,” in which a diver becomes so drunk that he may, with great confidence, remove his mask and offer it to a passing grouper). Read More »
We all say that we desire to pastor a missional church. But how do you know you’re successful? You know you’re pastoring a missional church when your church is full of missional people. When the people sitting in the pews are actually living on mission for God. Read More »
In Part 1 of this assessment, I alleged four things:
- First, a loss in numbers among Southern Baptists is more asset than liability.
- Second, baptisms are down because we have ceased witnessing as we ought. Yes, I know that the issue is more complicated than that. There are complicating factors, but all of these are easily overcome by aggressive, though wise, personal witness.
- Third, I argue that the church’s embrace of the culture has substantially weakened the witness of the people of God.
- Finally, I asserted that theology conditions witness. A thousand denials meet this avowal, but the exceptions, for which I am grateful, do not alter the stark reality of the whole.
The lugubrious prognostications about Baptist futures are known and experienced by all. LifeWay annually tells the sad story of reversals in numbers, and statisticians weigh in on the analysis. The latest major assessment comes from Molly Worthen, appearing recently on The Daily Beast. As I view all of this, I do not find myself, as do some, in a hand-wringing posture. I am concerned but hardly in panic. The following observations will spell out why I am actually finding some reasons for rejoicing. Read More »
Most of us make up our minds on worldview matters when we are relatively young. The process of worldview formation itself begins as early as one starts to form thoughts about the world. When we are young, we absorb (as if by a process of osmosis) categories and concepts from the influencers around us (parents, siblings, friends, school, media, etc.), which constitute our worldview. This is not to say that we cannot change our worldview when we are older, but all the statistics support the notion that doing so happens much more rarely after a particular point in our lives: the college years. So the college years are that pivotal moment when our thoughts on how to understand the world in its most basic categories crystallize. Read More »
A witch, a lion, a wardrobe closet, or leaders of a nationwide network of secret churches throughout China? I walked through the back of a closet built into a wall in a remote rural Chinese farmhouse wondering which it would end up being—it certainly was not Narnia. An invitation came to join other professors and teach 100 underground leaders from all four geographic corners of that big place in 2003. Read More »
The majority of those 18 to 25:
- Do not have a clear vocational focus nor the drive to move forward vocationally.
- Do not feel motivated to achieve independence in their finances or life situation.
- Do not feel ready to accept the lifetime commitments that marriage entails.
- Do not feel ready to parent.
- Do not like to delay gratification for a greater good.
- Do not like to work hard for long hours at uninteresting tasks to achieve a goal.
“Who cares what Aristotle thinks about a severed hand,” retorted an exasperated philosophy student on a wintery night in a Midwestern university. My lecture screeched to a halt. As the class stared at me, enjoying the showdown, the subtext of my student’s comment was not lost on them or me: “Aristotle’s view of substance provides me with no ‘real world’ benefit, so it is useless knowledge.” Read More »
From his high school GPA to thoughts on New Calvinism, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson answered more than 80 questions related to theology, ministry, and personal history during a rapid-fire Q&A session, March 27. Read More »
Baptists vigorously affirm the priesthood of believers. But does that mean all believers—including the 10-year-olds? Read More »
There are, on my view, a variety of values that can be had by practicing what we call Apologetics. Let’s first say what Apologetics is as a discipline. In its most general sense, apologetics is a preparatory discipline where one readies oneself to commend and defend the truth of Christianity. What immediately comes to mind for many of us are the overly cerebral arguments one may offer in defense of the faith. These are the ones that, for many, cause immediate eye glazing to occur. They may include formal arguments for God’s existence; historical evidence for the resurrection; addressing challenges, such as the so-called problem of evil; alleged contradictions in Scripture; and alleged moral issues in Scripture as well as a whole host of other academic topics. These are indeed in the corpus of Apologetics topics. However, on my view, commending and defending the faith may at times be much less cerebral. Read More »
In 1939, C. S. Lewis delivered an address entitled, “Learning in War-Time” to encourage those to persevere in their studies at the advent of World War II. As I read through his comments I was struck by the relevance his words have for those called to ministry but are currently given the assignment to prepare in formal theological education. Read More »
Researcher Tim Elmore has found young adults to be a narcissistic or me-centered generation. They have spurts when they want to change the world but have not grown up with strong enough commitments to sustain activity toward change. Youth ministry today shapes future young adults. Read More »
In Luke 24 Jesus showed Himself alive to His disciples and explained that the cross and resurrection, and indeed much else in His life, were predicted in Scripture. Verse 27 states: “Then beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted for them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.” Then in verse 44, He told them “that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Read More »
If I were a senior pastor I would print the following list of questions, and I would take it to staff meeting for discussion. I would expect discussion to involve everyone. For example, I would expect those in ministry with children to consider how 12 years in their program will address question #1. I would expect those in adult ministry to have much to say about questions #7-9. I would expect those who lead senior adult ministry to address question #10 with creativity. And of course, I would keep the youth pastor at the heart of all the conversations. Read More »
I remember wondering why I could not have the little piece of bread and the small cup of juice that my friend Noel was able to take. I did not question my parents on that Sunday morning, but later asked my mom and she explained that Noel had given his life to Jesus, and you could only take the Lord’s Supper after you had become a Christian. She then explained the Lord’s Supper and the gospel. It was the beginning of my searching and as I was further exposed to the gospel (particularly one night at the parsonage at Falls Baptist Church in Wake Forest, North Carolina) eventually on June 14, 1981 my mom led me to the Lord and I put my faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. Read More »
There is a conversation that is getting louder in Southern Baptist circles, and it is one that I am very excited about. The SBC website says we are a network of over 45,000 churches with nearly 16 million members, but the reality is that we have a great percentage of churches that are plateaued or declining. I have seen statistics showing between 70 to 80 percent of our Southern Baptist churches are at this point. Any honest observation would admit there are many sick, dying, or even dead-and-just-do-not-realize-it-yet churches. Read More »
By the will of the Father and the power of the Spirit, the first love of the church today is to be focused on the Son. That first love is not to be some weak sentiment but a consuming love that propels the believer to make Christ supreme in all things. Read More »
Those of us leading parents back into primary spiritual leadership with their children have brought a secret out of the closet. Mom and dad may not be spiritually developed enough to lead their children, even if they are active church members. Spiritually, parents cannot take children places they have not been. Read More »
If you have walked in Christian circles for any amount of time at all, it has happened to you. An individual confides in you about a prayer need in his or her life and requests that you would pray for them. How do we respond? I’ve never heard anyone say, “No, I don’t have time for that, but good luck.” Of course not, we normally quickly respond that we will pray and go on about our business. Sometimes we remember the request and pray about it quickly, but I will confess there have been times in my life that I have completely forgotten about the matter and have been unfaithful in my commitment to pray for my brother or sister. In essence, I have lied to someone. I told them I would do something and failed to do it. Read More »
Three documents have crashed into each other on my computer. Their composite message is both troubling and hopeful. Read More »
During his final years in Northampton, Massachusetts, Jonathan Edwards received an invitation from Scotland to participate in a Concert of Prayer as a “means” of rejuvenating the revivals. Read More »
Marcion of Sinope lived in the second century during some of the most formative years of the early church. The son of a bishop, he was also active in the church as a teacher in the region of Asia Minor. In 144 A.D., Marcion parted ways with the Christian community by starting his own movement, and by doing so, encouraged thousands through his teachings to better appreciate the Bible. Read More »
Pastor, you can decide to support youth ministry for one of two reasons. First, you can decide to support youth ministry because you ought to—in the same way you ought to support every ministry of the church. On the other hand, you can decide to support youth ministry because you see it as a strategic and powerful way to fulfill the vision you have for your church and for the coming of Christ’s kingdom on earth. Read More »
Marriage rates are rising according to an article published in USA Today this week. They report about an expected rise in marriage rates over the next few years after a progressive decline since the recession. The report from Demographic Intelligence of Charlottesville, VA, predicts a 4% rise in the number of weddings over the low point in 2009. From 2007 to 2009, the number of marriages in the United States dropped from 2.197 million to 2.080 million. Demographic Intelligence projects that the number of marriages will rise to 2.208 million by 2015. Read More »
Sometimes a leader says, “When I hear what some of our church teenagers have been doing, it’s so frustrating. Why can’t they live consistently with their beliefs?” Read More »
Humility is very commonly thought of as a matter of self-deprecation. The thought seems to be that the more we put ourselves down, the more humble we are. This has led some philosophers throughout history to deny that humility is even a virtue but is instead more of a vice. However, this popular understanding is decidedly not the biblical notion of humility. The biblical notion of humility has very little to do with how we understand our worth or importance. Our worth is fixed by being created in God’s image. Furthermore, Jesus is the exemplar of living a life of humility (see Phil. 2:3-11). So His humility couldn’t have anything to do with his worth, since he is infinitely worthy. And we don’t ever see Jesus putting himself down. The Christian notion of humility, as exemplified by Jesus, is an attitude of how to relate to others. It has to do with our actions and the ends to which they are directed. More specifically, humility done Christianly is when one is oriented away from self and has God as one’s end. Read More »